A wide grin or a quick pause in an answer were the only signs that Kentucky wide receivers coach Lamar Thomas offered that this rivalry game against his former employer means more to him than just a normal game.
He admitted it might be a little bit emotional on Saturday returning to Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium, where he coached for two seasons.
“Knowing those kids, a lot of them I recruited, it’ll be a little emotional,” Thomas said.
He didn’t say if he’d spoken with any of the coaches he worked with or the players he recruited in the days leading up to the rivalry game.
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“I like those guys. I like the coaches on the staff,” he said. “I like the players, it’s just a ball game we’re going to have to face each other. I’ll shake hands before the game and I’ll shake hands after the game. It is what it is. Life is going to go on regardless.”
There wasn’t a lot of hand shaking before the game there two years ago when a small dust up occurred on the field between the players and even some coaches.
Where was Thomas in all of that, he was asked after practice on Tuesday.
“Umm, I was down there, I think I was standing beside Coach (Bobby) Petrino,” said Thomas, who added that he was grateful that Petrino gave him an opportunity to join that staff. “He was my boss.”
Was he there to protect Petrino? Hard to say.
“He was my boss,” Thomas said. “Him and (athletic director) Tom Jurich signed the checks at the time. Had to do what I had to do.”
As for Twitter, where Thomas spent a good deal of time going back and forth with Louisville fans during the offseason, has he checked his mentions this week?
“Um, I think I read a couple things,” he laughed. “It’s fun. I try not to comment too much during the season. During the offseason, obviously I’m just having fun, enjoying myself, but during the season I’m pretty much hard at work trying to get W’s. We’ve got enough to go to a bowl game. We’re not satisfied, but it’s happier around here now.”
The wide receivers coach also was asked about how much he can help with offensive game planning since he knows plays and personnel so well from his time with the Cardinals.
“I was there for two years, so hopefully I learned some things,” he said, mentioning that Louisville defensive coordinator Todd Grantham is an impressive mind.
He “does a lot of great things on defense, a lot of exotic blitzes so we have to protect,” Thomas said. “Just gotta make plays, protect the football and play with some intensity and score at least one more than they do.”
WANTED: Another Lamar Jackson: It was Thomas that helped bring Heisman Trophy frontrunner Lamar Jackson to Louisville, which has led head coach Mark Stoops to light a fire under the now-UK wide receivers coach to find another star quarterback and lure him to Lexington. “I expect him to find us one of those guys,” Stoops joked on Monday. “I was rattling his cage telling him to find me somebody like that.” Stoops has said it a couple times, Thomas said. “I can’t wait to get on the recruiting trail and see if I can find one.”
Down memory lane with Boom Williams: As soon as Kentucky started prepping for Louisville, Boom Williams couldn’t help himself. The running back’s mind went back to last season when he had to be helped off the field with a serious elbow injury that led to surgery and months of grueling rehab. “Just replay of how I did that last year has been playing in my head over and over again,” said Williams, who had seven carries for 37 yards and a touchdown before leaving the game. “I’ve definitely been thinking about last year and I’m definitely ready for this opportunity that we have.” Williams also was reminded of the big game he had at Louisville in 2014, which included 18 carries for 126 yards and two touchdowns as a true freshman. “I was just able to find some holes and be able to make some plays,” he recalled.
Captain Even Keel: It sounds like the knee injury for quarterback Stephen Johnson is one of just many bumps and bruises he’s battled throughout this season. The junior college transfer has shown toughness, co-offensive coordinator Darin Hinshaw said. “There’s a lot of guys I’ve coached in the past who would’ve said, ‘No, I’m not going to keep going,” Hinshaw said. “He said, ‘No, I’m going to do it for the team.’” That toughness has rubbed off on Johnson’s teammates, too, Hinshaw said. And while there are still some mechanical things the coaches want Johnson to improve, his toughness and his calm demeanor have been key to UK’s success this season. Hinshaw called Johnson one of the “most honest human beings” as far as owning his mistakes. “We’ve really got a good line of communication to find out how we can fix things to get things better or to be able to go move on with the game plan, to be able to change some things,” Hinshaw said. “That’s been really good.”